On the day after New Year’s Day I strip all the beds in the house. The laundry room floor is covered with sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads and I am thinking about the clean slate. Somehow I can’t stand to think of our dreaming being done in last year’s dirt—little bits of skin and dog hair and lint littering up the sleeping.
I stand in the doorway with bedclothes billowing and I see that the dirt of life—the dirt of my life—is a very robust thing. We do what we can to write our stories well, to live a good dream, but there is always the stuff of life—the unforeseen interruptions, the distractions, the dirt of everyday necessities.
No matter what I dream, the sheets will still need washing.
Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday and in honor of one of our favorite storytellers, I wanted to have a party. But Jeffrey had percussion practice after school and Teddy had to tutor some classmates and it was cold and night came early and my body hurt from the New Year’s resolutions and a fall down some stairs. So Teddy and I took Lucy Mae for a walk in the dark instead and I dressed her in a leopard print sweater. At least the dog would be dressed for celebration.
The evening walk is a heart exercise and especially in the cover of night it seems our senses are tuned to the eternal and each step has a way of loosing the strings that knot us up in what we can see. I feel around inside of him with questions and he smiles more readily than usual and we walk slow—even in the cold. On this night, I am thinking about how we enjoyed The Hobbit recently and I remember that essay I read just the other day—I remember how Tolkien coined this term eucatastrophe.
Wikipedia tells me that he formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot.
To me, eucatastrophe sounds like the happy ending, but to Tolkien, it meant more. It’s the way the hero’s fate is tied up in the entire story—it’s redemption in the end that the telling was building up to. It’s the happy ending only deeper.
Tolkien saw the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation, Wikipedia goes on to say.
And I think about the stories he wrote, how they embodied this term eucatastrophe, and I wonder how my life can do the same. How am I living my life that leads this story to the great Eucatastrophe?
I am likely never to face trolls, or orcs, or goblins. I probably won’t be on a quest upon which rests the fate of earth as we know it. But there is always the dirt of life that rears up against me—threatens to waylay this hero from the happy ending.
Am I able to carry this ring?
I smooth down the edges of sheets and fluff pillows into plump resting places. It feels good, this clean slate. But one thing I know—one thing I’ve learned from Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf and life…the journey is a continuous series of stops and starts. There are joy days and dream days and good storytelling. But there are also interruptions, frustrations, and the dirt of life.
I will keep pressing forward, writing these pages. Because I already know how that eucatastrophe will unfold. I already know the happy ending.